The Muppets 1.05: “Walk the Swine”

Reese Witherspoon visits Piggy on "Up Late".

Reese Witherspoon visits Piggy on “Up Late”.

I had been eagerly anticipating Reese Witherspoon’s visit to The Muppets for quite a while. As a small, plucky, determined, blonde Hollywood star with an unexpected edge (and documented diva behavior, at times), she seemed the perfect foe for Piggy, and while it would be nice to eventually see Piggy cross paths with another female star who she doesn’t harbor jealousy or resentment towards, Piggy never has been the plays-well-with-others-who-seem-like-they-might-try-to-hog-her-spotlight type.


Particularly in this case, for, as we learn in this episode, Piggy was also up for the role of June Carter Cash in Walk the Line but lost out to Reese who–to add insult to injury–then had the gall to win an Oscar for it. Kermit even tells Uncle Deadly that he’d thought she’d gotten over the Reese rivalry when Natalie Portman similarly “stole” the Black Swan lead out from under Piggy, and he responds, “That was just a decoy grudge. It’s always been Witherspoon. Always.”


And from a storytelling perspective, I appreciate that the writers have found a different dynamic and reason for her clashes with each of her blonde nemeses so far. Christina Applegate made a fool out of her by airing the video footage of Piggy humiliating herself at the birthday party. Piggy may have overreacted, but that’s still a solid motivation for wanting to get back at her. And when it came to Elizabeth Banks, Piggy didn’t actually have a problem with her at all, despite Piggy’s disastrous Hunger Games audition. Instead, Banks simply reminded her of the worst day of her life, when her Kermie dumped her outside of the Pitch Perfect 2 premiere, which was also arguably the only time this season that we’ve really seen Piggy be vulnerable and, for lack of a better word, human.


Piggy strikes a pose.

Piggy strikes a pose.

Which is also, I think, the major problem here. Most of Piggy and Reese’s squabbling is quite funny–not necessarily the most innovative Muppet material ever but there are some great one-liners and a terrific final scene between the two of them–but part of what has always made Miss Piggy work so well is the fact that, although she’s a self-deluded diva, her love for Kermit–which is genuine and pure–helps soften her rougher edges. The challenge The Muppets faces, however, is in how to keep Piggy likable while single because she no longer has Kermit as an outlet for her softer side. In fact, the fact that their break-up wounded her emotionally is probably the major reason she’s going so overboard with the abrasiveness, to prove that she’s fine, damn it. But that also leads to a lot of Piggy showing off her most negative qualities, which again, are funny but make it difficult to more genuinely root for her.


And so I might’ve found the Piggy/Reese face-off more enjoyable if we were given more than just Piggy in over-the-top diva mode. Even when she cries here, the tears are played not from a real place but as part of her melodramatic histrionics. “How can something like taking revenge on a person take such a dark turn?” she asks–a funny line, absolutely, but also one that overall continues to reassert her harsher side when what the show really needs is for us to really feel for Piggy again. I am totally there for squabbling, petty, narcissistic Piggy but I also need to see some kindness somewhere in here, as well.


Overall, I’m not faulting this particular story but I do feel that the show needs to find Piggy’s heart again, as it did in the pilot. I even get why they’re not focusing on her emotions underneath the façade so much. Week after week of her seeming to pine after Kermit would be repetitive and frustrating for viewers, as well as probably being not the best message. But the two either need to work through their issues, get back together, or Piggy has to actually move on, at least for the time being. I hesitate to say she needs another Kermit-esque romantic interest to ground her, but that might be the simplest short-term solution before their inevitable reunion. Again, the plot by itself is perfectly fine, but taken in the context of a number of weeks in which Piggy seems to only behave selfishly or narcissistically, it adds to a pattern that could use some undercutting.


Piggy is ready to work.

Piggy is ready to work.

But back to the plot itself, the idea of Piggy volunteering for Habitat for Humanity just to show up Reese is a completely solid Piggy move. I particularly love her show-off throwaway Monopoly gag, “And after I build 4 houses, I replace them with a hotel!” Her “work” attire the next day at the construction site–a leopard print work belt, a bedazzled hammer covered in pink fluff, “ultra-suede stiletto work booties,” as Reese refers to her shoes–is also classic Piggy. And the sequence is filled with great little bits, such as Piggy confusing the surveyor for a cameraman, and later dialing in a tip to the press at to her presence at the site, pretending to be a construction worker who noticed “the incredibly beautiful Miss Piggy…and Reese Witherspoon, who looks like she just rolled out of bed.”


And it gets even more fun when Reese stops playing nice and finally sinks to Piggy’s level, the Divine Miss P having riled her up to the point that her competitive streak finally kicks in, because Reese Witherspoon is usually most fun on screen when a bit of an edge starts to show underneath her perky exterior. Here, there’s even a bit of a nice twist: we expect Reese, who does this housebuilding thing regularly, to wipe the floor with pampered Piggy, but as Piggy informs/reminds Reese, she grew up on a farm and can handle herself. And handle herself she does, even finally delivering her first karate chop and hi-ya! of the series. Granted, it’s to chop a piece of wood, not physically assault Reese, but it’s a wonderful moment much appreciated by this Piggy fanatic.


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